Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Category: Short Stories

Making the CBC Short Story Longlist

My story, And a River Went Out of Eden, made the 2018 CBC Short Story Contest longlist. Cheers and mead all around! I’m super honoured to have a story make it this far, and excited to read the others on the list.

And a River Went Out of Eden is the product of more than a year of composition and rewriting and critique and rewriting. It wasn’t written in a vacuum. I’m thankful for the input of incredible writers: Robert McGill and all my peers at ENG389, where the story was born, and J. Marshall Freeman and A.M. Matte who helped nurse it to strength.

Writing can be very solitary, and it’s often like singing alone: you really can’t tell what you sound like unless you have someone to listen. If you’re serious about writing and looking for a tip to grow with, consider getting a group of writerly friends and sharing your works in progress. It helps!

On The Subway

     A young Indian or Pakistani couple sits down beside me at the next stop. I know they are either Indian or Pakistani from their language. I think it is Urdu or Punjabi or something. I speak Urdu because I married a Pakistani. But I can’t understand them much. They speak too fast. And I’ve been away from Pakistan too long. The girl keeps looking at my computer as I play my game.
     I’m playing Limbo. My character is stuck at a difficult part and I keep dying.
     She turns to the man and says something. I think it’s Urdu, but I can’t understand. He laughs. They talk in low voices. The kind of voices you use when you’re talking about someone nearby. I try to understand them, but they talk too fast and low. I play in my mind what they might have been saying.
     “Ajeeb game xaylraha. Dekho, vo bar bar neechay girjata.”
     “He’s playing a strange game. Look, he just keeps falling.”
     “Han. Vo kyun computer game xalraha hai? Kya vo baccha hai?”
     “Yeah. And why is he playing a computer game anyway? Is he a child?”
     And then I could have said, “Baccha nahin hun. Bas, yeh bara dilchusp game hai. Lekin meh pusgya yahan.”
     “I’m not a child. It’s just that this game is so interesting. But I’m stuck in this part.”
     That would have been nice. But I can’t hear what they were saying. And maybe it’s not even urdu that they’re peaking. Maybe it’s Punjabi or Sindhi or one other those other languages that sounds kinda the same.
     They keep laughing at their secret joke. I get embarrassed and put my computer away. I take out my book to read.
     The Indian couple gets off at the next stop. I miss them. They seemed happy. I wish I was on a bus. That way I could have called my wife and spoken Urdu to her in front of them. Then they would have probably talked to me. It’s not everyday you meet a white guy who speaks Urdu, after all. But everyone knows there’s no cell signal underground. Maybe if we were at Islington where the train gets above ground…
     A pretty blonde girl sits beside me when we stop at Younge. The train is crowded. I never mind when it’s crowded. Even when I have to stand. It’s nice being around so many people. It’s powerful. She sits really close to me because of the large man beside her. My arm touches hers. She brushes against me every time she takes a drink of her coffee. She never looks at me.
     Why is she drinking coffee so late at night? Maybe she works nights like I do. She doesn’t look like that kind of person, though. She looks young and well-off. You don’t choose nights if you’re well-off. Unless she’s a doctor or something. I think they work at night. They’d have to. What if someone got hurt at night? But she doesn’t look overworked, and I hear doctors work a lot. Maybe she’s a student, working nights to help pay for her tuition. I will still be doing nights when I start at U of T. I can do most of my homework and reading at work.
     The large man shifts in his seat. I’ve seen people do that trick when they sit beside people who look nice. You move a bit and pretend not to notice that you’re touching the person next to you. But the pretty girl notices, so she shifts in her seat. Now she’s crowding me. I don’t mind. I don’t mind crowds. Even before I lived in Pakistan I never minded crowds. Crowds are powerful.
     The large man and the pretty girl get off at Dufferin. Most people are off the train, now. I have the bench to myself. I don’t really mind that much, either. I take my computer back out. I try playing Limbo again for a while. My character, a silhouetted little boy, stands on the roof, looking out at the grey cityscape. He can’t go backward. And to go forward puts him on a steep stope that he slips down. I make him jump before he falls off the edge, but there’s nothing for him to land on, and he dies. I try again. I jump further this time. As far as he can go. He hits the spinning saw and is torn apart. I try again, this time I don’t jump. I just let him fall. And he dies. If I make him try his best he is torn apart by the saw. If I let him slip, he hits the ground and dies. In the end, is one death better than the other? I’m the only one watching to judge.
     The man across from me keeps staring. He doesn’t look happy. Happy people are more powerful than sad people. But he’s not sad. He looks annoyed. Or angry. Some angry people are powerful. The happy angry people. But his mouth says that he’s rarely happy. I wonder what kind of life he has, that makes him want to scowl at passengers on the subway. I wonder why he scowls at me. Some people don’t like it when you use a computer in public. Or maybe he doesn’t like my hair. I once had a man spit on me because he didn’t like my hair. Or maybe he was just crazy.
     (Can you be just crazy?)
     It was at Pape Station, where the man spat on me. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. He glared back at me, as if I had called him a dirty name. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. When you don’t know what you should do, it’s usually best to just keep quiet and watch. So I turned and got on my bus.
     But this man across from me isn’t spitting on me, so that’s easy. I could look up and smile at him, but angry people don’t like smiles. Angry people don’t like anything. Unless they’re happy angry people. Then they like change. Then they like action.
     I was a happy angry person once. I still am, sometimes. Though mostly I’m just happy. At least when I’m not working. It’s hard to be happy or angry when you work all alone and at night. Because it takes energy to be happy or angry. And energy comes from people. That’s why I like crowds. But when there is no energy, you mostly are just sad. It doesn’t take any energy to be sad. Sad is the easiest.
     Does that mean sad is the natural state?
     No. Because we naturally have energy. So being angry or happy or both is more natural.
     The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Preachers say that means you shouldn’t go to bed mad. I think it means you should always stay mad. And not let the sun set on it. Not let its sun go down. Not a dark anger. A shining one, because you’re not letting the sun set on it. The kind of anger that burns against the things that make darkness. The kind of anger that you can hold and still be happy.
     We arrive at Kipling. The doors open. I sling my satchel over my shoulder and get off.

Short Story – The Sodomite

This is a new one. I’ve been wanting to write it for a while but was never really able to make it work until just now. And I think it works now. It’s a bit of an exercise in trying to understand myself and my thoughts about life, Jesus and everything good. I was raised in a very conservative religious environment and have been moving toward something different over the past few years. The Sodomite is a bit of a parody of some very popular modern Christian parables linking the idea of substitutional atonement with a judge condemning a guilty crook and then serving his sentence. Anyway, enjoy it and pass it alone!

Short Story – Found in a Room

I really think that nerds are going to save us all when the zombie apocalypse comes.

Found in a Room is the result of my over-active mind examining my apartment and mentally preparing myself for the inevitable invasion. When it comes I think I’ll be decently prepared. I wrote it more than a year ago with a great little writing circle I was a part of. I’d love that circle to come back!


Short Story – Layali

I was hoping to throw something else up before putting up another short, but Easter weekend being as busy as it was there was not much else to do.

Layali is a short story from about a year ago. It’s about a young Afghani girl struggling to find her identity in suburban Canada.

People are a lot more complicated than we usually give them credit for. We prefer things to be black and white. We like our films to have definite good guys and definite bad guys. We don’t like ambiguity. We don’t like things we can’t label. And that hurts people. Hurts lots of people.


Short Story – Cleaning House

Cleaning House is one of my newer stories. It’s about a father trying to get his kids to clean the house. Sounds boring, but I don’t think it is. It’s funny and has some witty dialogue. It’s a lot more representative of the type of voice and writing I’m dabbling in than the last short I posted. Read it. Enjoy it. Tell me what you think.

New Story: The Dark Man

The Dark Man

I wrote this in the last few weeks of 2009. I was a fan of anagrams back then and supposed they were a clever and subtle way of putting hidden meanings into my stories. Not sure it worked. In this story, it only succeeded in giving my protagonist a really awkward name. Live and learn, eh?

The story itself isn’t all that original, I think. You’ll find similar themes in Star Wars and Mistborn and other fantasies. But I think it’s a theme that bears retelling. The theme of monolithic evil turning out to a bit more complicated and, maybe, earning a fleeting sliver of sympathy. And then the questions of whether or not that makes a difference.

I like this story because it came around the time I was trying to stretch and change as a writer. It’s my first experience with fantasy, my favorite genre, and even though I wouldn’t count it as an especially well-written work, it’s got a special place in my heart. Enjoy it.